Sex Work in the Sino-Vietnamese Borderlands

ZhouLei & Duong Bich Hanh

Hekou and its Border

This report explores cross-border sex work in the borderlands of the sub- Mekong region between Vietnam and China. We focus particularly on the town of Hekou. Hekou is situated in the Yao Minority Autonomous County in the Honghe Hani and Yi Minority Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, China, on one bank of the Red River, which forms an international border between Hekou and the Vietnamese city of Lao Cai, the capital of Lao Cai province.

For people on the Vietnamese side of the Red River, Hekou evokes ideas of both familiarity and difference. For Vietnamese travelers who visit the region from the lowlands, a half-day trip to Hekou is often a must in the itinerary. In Hekou, they will walk around town and eat some of the infamous stinky tofu; no trip will be considered successful unless several Chinese goods are purchased, ranging from winter blan- kets to summer fans. At the border gate, immigration entry and exit processes through the tall overarching gates heighten one’s sense
of leaving one country to enter another. Many day-trippers stop as soon as they walk out of the immigration building to pose for a picture or two in front of the gate before continuing across the bridge overlooking the brown water of the Red River….


Zhou Lei is a post-doctoral researcher, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Nanjing University; he can be reached at

Duong Bich Hanh received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Washington, and is currently in charge of the culture program at the UNESCO Hanoi Office. She can be reached at